Sixteen days in and what a World Cup this has been so far. Two time World champions, Germany, out. World cup debutants, Morocco, in. Olympic gold medalists, Canada, out. Co-hosts, Australia, in.
There have been some incredible team performances, some phenomenal goals, and some shock results as the group stages of the Women’s World Cup 2023 have taken place. Here’s what went down:
The opening day of the tournament saw co-hosts, New Zealand, take on Norway at Eden Park in front of a record breaking crowd of 42,137. The Football Ferns secured their first ever World Cup win (and on home soil) through Hannah Wilkinson’s clinical finish in the 48th minute - scoring the first goal of the tournament pens her name into history forever. It was the perfect opening to this year’s World Cup and such a magical game of the football to watch with New Zealand fans, players and staff overcome with emotion as the full time whistle was blown. The atmosphere looked electric. This game also had the biggest TV audience for a football match shown in New Zealand for over 20 years - this is the future of women’s football. The hard work of the Football Ferns is certainly paying off as they are making their nation proud, breaking records on the biggest stage, all whilst inspiring the next generation of girls in New Zealand to play the beautiful game. Unfortunately, they were unable to make it out of Group A with Switzerland leading the group with five points, and Norway finishing second with four, but the Football Ferns have a lot to be proud of regardless.
Despite the news that captain and star striker, Sam Kerr, was injured and would not be starting for the Matildas, it was success for co-hosts, Australia, on the opening day of the tournament too as they took on World Cup debutants, Ireland, in Stadium Australia. Another record was broken as Australia performed in front of a record home crowd of 75,784 fans, and got their first three points with Steph Catley’s penalty conversion seeing the Matildas secure a 1-0 victory. Despite losing to Nigeria in their second game of the tournament, the Matildas retrieved a further three points in their final group stage game with an exhilarating 4-0 win over reigning Olympic gold medalists, Canada. This saw them top Group B with six points, progressing to the knockouts alongside Nigeria, and sending the Canadians home with the Irish.
Having gone out in the round of 16 in the 2019 World Cup in France, Japan have shown the world that they are not messing around this time round, topping Group C with nine points, a tournament-high of 11 goals, and a 4-0 victory over Spain. They have been breathtaking. They have displayed defensive masterclasses whilst their attackers have been on fire, breaking down the backline of Spain despite only have 23% possession in the game. They are the team to watch in the round of 16. Spain have also progressed from Group C with six points, whilst Zambia and Costa Rica have unfortunately been eliminated.
England’s World Cup journey may have started slowly with victories of only 1-0 in their opening two games, but their record-equalling 6-1 win over China sent out a message to their opponents as they topped Group D and qualified for the knockouts. Losing Keira Walsh in midfield just before halftime in their meeting with Denmark, caused the nation to go into panic mode. She is irreplaceable within this England squad, and many thought the team would struggle without her presence against China. But Sarina Wiegman’s starting XI on Tuesday 1st August, adapted impeccably. Taking a 3-4-1-2 approach allowed Bronze and Daly to drive up the pitch on their respective sides, confident in the knowledge that Greenwood, Bright and Carter were behind them should they lose possession. This created a more free-flowing performance from the Lionesses that brought with it an abundance of goals and easily their best performance at the tournament so far. Wiegman commented after the game saying “I’m very delighted, it shows how adaptive this team is and I think they are enjoying themselves on the pitch” - and that they are. Lauren James has been absolutely world class: three assists and two goals (that was almost three goals with her strike in added time of the first half ruled out for a controversial offside decision). She is 21-years-old at her first World Cup with three goals scored in her first two starts. England had failed to score a goal from open play in 342 minutes before Lauren James rippled the back of the net against Denmark! She has played a huge part in England’s progression to the round of 16. Denmark came in at second place with six points which sends China and Haiti out of the tournament.
The USWNT may have won the Women’s World Cup four times, but they have not had the start to this tournament that they would have wanted with only one win achieved in the group stages for the first time in their history. They retrieved three points against World Cup debutants, Vietnam, but only took one from the Netherlands, and one from Portugal. They finished second in Group E, two points behind the Netherlands who had a tremendous final group stage game in which they beat Vietnam 7-0, and only a point ahead of Portugal who bowed out of the tournament alongside Vietnam.
Brazil failed to make it to the round of 16 for the first time since 1995 as France and Jamaica progressed from Group F. The Reggae Girlz are heading to the knockout stage for the first time after holding both France and Brazil to goalless draws, and beating Panama 1-0, with France securing qualification with a 6-3 victory over Panama in their final group stage game. They might not have qualified for the round of 16, but Panama scored their first ever Women’s World Cup goal, courtesy of Marta Cox’s free kick strike on the 30-yard line, in their meeting with France, and that is historic in itself.
Reigning Olympic silver gold medalists, Sweden, sit at the top of Group G having won all three games in the group stages, qualifying for the round of 16 alongside South Africa whose first World Cup win was the deciding factor in who took second place. Banyana Banyana made history as they stunned Italy, denying them the three points needed for qualification. Whilst Sweden will continue their World Cup journey against USA, as will South Africa who will play the Netherlands in the knockouts, Italy have exited the tournament alongside Argentina.
Entering the tournament as the second-lowest ranked team, World Cup debutants, Morocco, have created history. They have qualified for the round of 16 ahead of two-time World Champions, Germany. The Germans won their first game of the group stages, but suffered defeat at the hands of Columbia in their second, and were held to a 1-1 draw against South Korea in their final. 18-year-old, Linda Caicedo, impressed on the biggest stage again as she fired Columbia ahead in the 52nd minute of their clash with Germany. She is an inspiration to young girls all around the world with two World Cup goals to her name only three years after being diagnosed with cancer. Columbia finished at the top of Group H, joint with Morocco on six points from three games, separated only by goal difference.
With 16 teams remaining, it is still just as difficult to predict who the winner will be of this insane Women’s World Cup, but, of course, we are rooting for our Lionesses who will face Nigeria in the round of 16 on Monday 7th August, 8:30am kick-off (UK time). Should the Lionesses beat Nigeria, they will face the winners of Colombia vs Jamaica in the quarter-finals.
What has been your favourite moment of the group stages. Comment below…